Take your emotions off their roller-coaster ride and tame your hot mess of a life—eight proven practices that promote poise, harmony and equanimity, and a swift restoration to serenity.
1. Stabilize your day. Erratic routines and lack of structure fuel anxiety and a sense of overwhelm—and if you’re especially stressed, even low-grade unpredictability feels like total chaos. If every day is a runaway train, hit the brakes. Start by establishing consistent sleep patterns; waking up and going to bed at the same time balances internal rhythms and supports steadier moods. Create simple morning and evening rituals—meditating or stretching when you wake up, journaling with a cup of tea before bedtime—to anchor your day and reinforce stability. And impose order on topsy-turvy schedules: write down each task, meeting, appointment, chore or commitment that requires your attention, then prioritize, organize and program them in a calendar. Be realistic and flexible; back-to-back meetings with no wiggle room for unplanned delays only fosters frustration.
2. Sit loosely in the saddle of life. On the flip side of an orderly routine: obsessing about managing each aspect of your daily existence. Sure, we all crave a degree of certainty—but the illusion of control is seductive, and banking happiness on the world unfolding in a precise and predictable way is a setup for despair. If you’re a bona fide control freak, loosen your grip; micromanaging promotes tension and stress, and studies show people who respond to calamity with aplomb are happier and better adjusted. Begin by surrendering small details; let your partner pick the restaurant, hand off projects to trusted colleagues, delegate. And lean into life. Look at unexpected events as exciting adventures—not wrenches in your carefully planned works.
3. Clear out clutter. Your outer life is a reflection of your inner being, and a chaotic environment breeds emotional edginess. If your home is a jumble of bric-a-brac gathering dust, size-too-small sweaters, broken lamps or objects fraught with psychic baggage, roll up your sleeves and get to it. Scrutinize every belonging; do you actually use it or wear it? Does it work, fit or function? Does it bring you joy? If the answer is no, let it go. Then streamline your surroundings: clean, repair, curate and organize the remaining useful, happy-making items. Decluttering applies to people, too. Negative energy is contagious; chronic complainers, master manipulators, drama queens or energy vampires leave you anxious, drained and moody. Weed them out, and envelop yourself in a bubble of positive, peaceful peers.
4. Muzzle your inner critic. Silently lambasting, judging and finding fault (with your annoying office mates, your needy sister, the giant SUV straddling two parking spaces) feeds negative emotions, destabilizes mood. Turn the volume down on derogatory internal commentary and reframe thoughts. Maybe the driver who cut you off is racing to the emergency room, or that impatient store clerk just got a scary diagnosis. Try a 24-hour criticism cleanse; commit to a totally judgement-free day. And that goes for you, too. A steady drip of demoralizing self-talk is a fast track to fluctuating mood—and you probably aren’t even aware of those spiteful little voices. Tune in to mean-spirited messages in your head. When your inner attacker belittles or berates (“You skipped your morning run again?”) ask: would I say this to my best friend? If not, formulate a loving, understanding and patient replay—and say it to yourself.
5. Quit chewing your cud. Cows repeatedly chew, swallow, un-swallow and rechew partially digested food—a process known as rumination, or chewing cud. Every time you regurgitate past failures, petty slights or lost opportunities, you’re doing the same thing. Habitually ruminating about long-gone history triggers an endless loop of guilt, shame and futility, wreaks havoc on harmony. The second you start to fixate, get your brain off that hamster wheel. Redirect chatter with a simple distraction; count backward from 100, describe a painting on the wall, crank up the music and dance around the living room. Then do a brooding brain-dump. Scribble down regrets, remorse, worries and bitterness; don’t edit, proofread or look for solutions—just get it all out. Free form writing eases obsessive thinking, encourages equanimity.
6. Practice being present. Ruminating over the past or fretting about the future means you’re missing out on the present—and generating mental static, turbulence and up-and-down emotions. Fixing your focus on the right-now calms and soothes unsettled mood. Try this: observe your surroundings, paying attention to every little thing; notice colors, sounds, shapes and smells in exquisite detail, without judging, categorizing or analyzing. If you’re standing, gaze down at your feet and let them fully connect with the floor. If you’re sitting, feel the entire back of your body being supported by the chair. Then harness your breath. Inhale to the count of four, hold it for four, and exhale to the count of four. Breathe and repeat.
7. Choose your battles. Bickering, quarreling and chronic conflict are emotionally exhausting, set you up for resentments and low-grade, simmering anger. Choose to be happy, instead of being right. When friction arises, ask yourself: do I really need to engage, respond or make a point? If a confrontation is truly necessary or inevitable, interact as placidly as possible. State your position with a smile, even when you don’t feel like it; studies show the brain can’t tell the difference, and the mere act of smiling recruits facial muscles that trigger the release of calming brain chemicals. Then resolve the conflict quickly and move on, leaving grudges behind. As the saying goes, “resentments are like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
8. Prioritize yourself. Avoiding confrontation is all well and good, but playing the role of martyr guarantees frustration, vexation and less-than-level moods. The same goes for those people-pleasing inclinations. Yes, be of service—but twisting into a pretzel to accommodate the ever-shifting whims of friends, family or coworkers creates inner turmoil, discord and strife. Advocate for yourself. Set appropriate boundaries, take care of your own needs and steer clear of requests that threaten to burden, overwhelm or disrupt your emotional balance. Don’t make excuses or feel guilty. Just politely decline, and remember: “no” is a complete sentence.